Service Animals to Receive Free Eye Exams
Charitable initiative promotes early intervention for working animals.
Service dogs serve crucial, specialized roles that help their human companions perform the daily tasks they might otherwise have a much harder time completing.
So it's key that these dogs are kept in the best of health -- and that goes for their eyes, as well.
The American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists, or ACVO, is hosting its 5th annual ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam event, throughout May 2012, in more than 200 clinics across the United States.
People who have a service dog -- including handicapped assistance dogs, detection dogs and search and rescue dogs -- can register for the free event online from April 1 through April 30.
"Our main concern is that when it comes to service animals, so many people depend on them for so many things and their sight is such an important element to keeping them healthy," explained Stacee Daniel, executive director of the ACVO. "If someone has a dog that is going blind they might not be able to recognize this."
From a social -- and economic -- perspective, as well, it pays to be able to detect any vision problems early on.
The more than 200 veterinary ophthalmologists throughout the U.S., as well as Canada and Puerto Rico, who participate in the event look for signs of genetic tendencies that can lead to blindness, but also "the most basic things," says Daniel.
"They evaluate dogs for redness in the eyes, squinting, weird behavior, and some things you cannot see in the back of the eyes, like ocular tumors," she explained.
In most cases, service animals are treated for conditions like cataracts disease, glaucoma and growth of eyelashes into the eye.
Because of misbreeding, young dogs may also experience cataracts and other diseases that typically affect older dogs, says Daniel.
"There's a lot of illness that will blind animals that you can't see, and you have to have the equipment to see it," explained Daniel. "It's kind of scary if you are dependent on these animals, and something could go wrong and you just wouldn't know it."
Since the event's inception in 2008, more than 10,500 service animals -- including some horses and even a donkey -- have been examined.
The event's participation has grown steadily over the years, from 1,500 dogs examined in the first two years to 5,000 last year, hitting the ACVO's goal.
Groups like the Transportation Security Agency, the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and Puppies Behind Bars, an organization that provides psychiatric service dogs to soldiers who have returned from Iraq, have all participated in the event in the past few years.
People can continue to bring their animals back and get them screened for as long as the event continues.
Leisa Eman, 43, has brought her dog, Pok, to get her eyes checked through the ACVO for the past three years. Pok, a five-year-old rescue pug, serves as Eman's Autism Buddy Dog.
"She can tell when I am nervous and will help with icebreaking," Eman, who lives in the Atlanta area, explained. "If I have problems talking to people, they will approach me and just talk to me about the dog and it makes it easier."
Pok goes "pretty much everywhere" Eman goes, she says, and when she isn't with her, she can become nervous.
"I just want to make sure that she is really healthy," explained Eman, who, as a photographer, regularly uses Pok as her subject. She is also writing a book about their adventures together.
Events like this give service dog owners a chance that they wouldn't normally have, Eman says.
"I think it's a great idea because a lot of people that depend on service animals are on fixed incomes and maybe can't always afford to have their eyes checked," she said. "Even for the professional animals, like police dogs and fire dogs, you just want them to be in the best shape they can be in."
People can register a service animal for the event online at ACVOeyeexam.org. Once registered, they will receive a list of participating ophthalmologists in their area and can contact a specialist to schedule an appointment for some time during the month of May.
Pictured: A Service Dog is screened at Lackland Air Force Base. (Photo courtesy of ACVO)
Do you know a service dog who could benefit from a free eye exam? What do you think of this initiative? Tell us below!
3 years ago
Skitters is not certified and neither is Shorty but they both will let me know when my blood sugar is high or low and they also know when I am sick or hurt and alot of dogs and cats have specail bonds and seem to end up knowing some how that their owner or owners need help with out any training at all!
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